Cholesterol is not a disease in itself, but when it is high, it represents a risk factor for many cardiovascular diseases. General practitioners share their recommendations to lower cholesterol level.
Cholesterol, what is it?
Cholesterol is a fat produced in the liver. It is also found in some foods. It is an element that plays an important role in maintaining the structure of the membranes of the cells of our body, in the synthesis of vitamin D and in the constitution of certain sex hormones such as testosterone. Generally, the cholesterol level must be less than 2g/l. Beyond that, we speak of an excess of cholesterol in the blood.
Cholesterol in itself is not bad for your health since the body’s cells need it. It is when cholesterol circulates in the blood in excessive quantities that it can increase the risk of developing certain cardiovascular diseases. Doctors agree that lowering cholesterol is an important step in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Good or bad cholesterol: the differences between HDL and LDL cholesterol?
In everyday language, we sometimes hear about “good” or “bad” cholesterol. Indeed, we distinguish HDL cholesterol from LDL cholesterol. The one that is responsible for cardiovascular disease risk factors is LDL cholesterol. It is estimated that 12 million French people have excess LDL cholesterol. By creating a deposit on the walls of the arteries, it causes a lack of elasticity in the arteries and reduces their diameter. This excess cholesterol that is not treated can cause long-term myocardial infarction or stroke. Other essential substances such as calcium are also hampered in their circulation because of this deposit of cholesterol.
The “good” cholesterol meanwhile called HDL reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by stimulating the elimination of LDL cholesterol by the liver.
Who are the people at risk?
Excess cholesterol, also called hypercholesterolemia, is very common in France and in developed countries because of our lifestyle. Men are more prone to it than women. The main risk factor is age: after 50 years, cholesterol levels are higher in men. But women are not spared. It is rather after the age of 60 that cholesterol develops because the phenomenon of menopause contributes to increasing the level of cholesterol in the blood. There are other risk factors like smoking, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, physical inactivity, and alcohol.
It rarely happens that children or young adults are prone to excess cholesterol, but when it does, it is most often in genetically predisposed cases.
Should I have my cholesterol level checked?
Excess cholesterol in the blood usually develops silently, without symptoms. To detect it, it is necessary to take a blood test on an empty stomach to assess the level of cholesterol in the blood.
The dosage of cholesterol in the blood is generally part of the assessments prescribed after a medical evaluation, especially if there are other cardiovascular risks present, family risks or other risk factors (age, tobacco, diabetes, etc.). with your attending physician.
6 Best ways to lower cholesterol levels
The treatment of excess cholesterol is mainly based on dietary measures and specific drug treatment. Here are some tips from doctors on Livi to help lower your cholesterol.
Reduce your total fat intake
Reduce saturated fat
A diet high in saturated fat increases the risk of cholesterol. These fats are mainly found in foods of animal origin as well as in some vegetable oils.
The main foods to limit or even avoid are:
- Butter, fresh cream, whole, semi-skimmed and concentrated milk;
- Red meat and charcuterie;
- Cookies and cakes;
- Vegetable oils (palm oil for example);
- Fries, fries and crisps.
Processed products like ready-made meals are often very high in saturated fat, sugar and added salt. It is best to avoid them when you have “bad” cholesterol. To recognize them when shopping, saturated fats are called “saturated fatty acids”. The objective is not to banish them from your diet but rather to distribute them better. Ideally, your intake of saturated fatty acids should not exceed 26 g per day.
Choose low-fat products
The closer you get to a vegetarian diet, the more success you will have in lowering your cholesterol level. If you want to continue eating meat, then choose leaner meats. Chicken and turkey are good options to go for.
If you opt for red meats, try to choose grass-fed meats if possible. Beef and pork raised with lots of corn tend to have higher concentrations of harmful fats.
If you like to eat dairy products or spreads, instead of the high-fat version, choose the low-fat version. All of these measures will help reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet.
Change the way you cook
One of the easiest ways to reduce your fat intake is how you cook your food. Roasting and frying results in a high fat content in your food. The healthiest and easiest way to cook is to grill, poach or even steam.
Avoid using butter for cooking and preferably use it in the morning on slices of bread. You can also replace it with vegetable margarine which helps lower LDL cholesterol levels.
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Consume monounsaturated fats
Adding monounsaturated fats to your diet lowers your LDL levels and improves your HDL levels. You will find them, among other things, in olive oil, canola oil, almonds, walnuts, pecans and cashews. These types of fats are very effective in lowering bad cholesterol and raising good ones. They also help prevent the oxidation of cholesterol which contributes to clogging the arteries.
Consume polyunsaturated fats
Polyunsaturated fats help lower LDL cholesterol levels as well as the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
These are mainly omega-3 fatty acids which prevent cholesterol from building up on arterial walls.
They can be found in:
- fatty fish: such as salmon, mackerel, herring, deep-sea tuna such as bluefin tuna and albacore;
- shellfish: such as shrimp;
- nuts and seeds: such as flax seeds.
It may therefore be a good idea to include a serving of it each week in your diet. Note, however, that the recommendations are different for breastfeeding or pregnant women and for children. Please consult a healthcare professional for more information.
Eat more fiber
Fiber reduces the absorption of cholesterol from the intestine. They are mainly found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
You can increase your fiber intake by eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and other legumes, and by switching to whole-grain versions of pasta, bread, and other foods. Oats are recommended since they help regulate cholesterol and blood sugar levels in the body.
Be careful, however, not to change your diet suddenly because an excess of fiber could disrupt the normal functioning of your body by causing undesirable effects such as bloating or constipation . Prefer the gradual addition of fiber while decreasing saturated fats. It is recommended to consult a doctor before initiating any dietary changes for your health.
Practice a physical activity
Many studies have been able to demonstrate the benefits that sport can bring in the reduction of “bad” cholesterol. Regular athletes have up to 30% higher “good” cholesterol levels compared to sedentary people . Physical activity can be your choice (cycling, running, swimming) as long as it is regular since it takes at least 3 months of weekly exercise to see an improvement in your LDL cholesterol level. Although the intensity of physical exercise is important, the amount over time has even more beneficial effects for your health.
Along with all the other health hazards like increased risk of death from all cancers, smokers have lower HDL “good” cholesterol levels than non-smokers.
Today, many free quit smoking resources are available. Substitute products, such as patches, can help reduce the urge to smoke. A doctor on Livi can also help you with your smoking cessation.
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